wāhkōhtowin: I am a Plains Cree woman, and I want to speak Cree.

Hi, it’s Emily. I’m proud to introduce a new weekly author, Honey Constant. I interviewed her a few weeks back and loved her perspective. When I asked her if she’d be willing to contribute to the blog, she agreed, and I’m thrilled.

Image of Honey Constant, a Plains Cree woman who wants to speak Cree and who pursuing her Masters in Archaeology at the University of Saskatchewan. She wears a formal robe, a white shirt, and a red skirt. She's holding a feather.

Honey Constant nitisīyikasо̄n, nēhiyaw-iskwēw о̄ma niya. pakitahwākan-sākahikanik ochi niya. ninohtē-nēhiyawān. I’ve said these words many times, and I can remember the first time I spoke them out loud to other people. I was nervous.

In my Indigenous language- nēhiyaw (Cree), I am identifying myself. My name is Honey Constant, I am a Plains Cree woman from Sturgeon Lake First Nation, and I want to speak Cree. To introduce myself in Cree was a big step for me and, in some way, I felt like an impostor. But I know a lot of us are struggling to learn our language or reconnect to culture. I am now more confident to speak Cree and, little by little, I hope we can all get there.

The first time I identified myself in Cree, I was in my theory class starting my Masters. You know, that customary time for the first year cohorts to introduce themselves to each other.

Image of Honey's hand holding a stone in front of a downtown Saskatoon sunset.

Funny thing is, at the University of Saskatchewan our Archaeology and Anthropology department is very tight-knit. The majority of the room already knew each other since we just completed our undergrad together. Even though I knew them and have excavated alongside them, I was still really nervous.

So nervous, my voice was shaking and I misspoke. However, I picked up and continued.

To me, my language is beautiful and carries so much hidden knowledge in the words. Since I am not fluent, it does feel out of reach, even though I am capable of learning.

The first language I learned in school was French, then English, then Cree formally in high school. I like to laugh and say that my brain is a mess of wires. When I try to recall French, I end up referring to Cree words, and sometimes, when I try to speak Cree, French words pop up. In my culture, we acknowledge there is healing in laughter and I love laughing at myself.

The word wāhkōhtowin is a perfect example of hidden knowledge. When translated using the Cree Dictionary, wāhkōhtowin (wah-gkoh-to-win) it means “Kinship”, but it also means “all my relations“, a natural law teaching. It can mean many things, like how it’s a teaching about family. You do not have to be blood to be family. If you share that bond, you are family.

In my culture, everything is interrelated. The circle is a powerful shape where there is no top, no bottom, no beginning or end. In this circle, we are all equal and are responsible for how our actions affect that circle. This is an important principle that I base my work on. This too is the teaching of wāhkōhtowin.

Image of a deer browsing

I want to work towards a future where we are comfortable learning our languages, reconnecting to cultures, or acknowledging that we are finding ourselves. When I share my story through the Elder Mary Lee’s Tipi Teachings at Wanuskewin, I always make a point to tell everyone the same thing: “You are exactly where you are meant to be.” Every bump and bruise is a lesson you are being taught so you can help others in the future. You are becoming who you are meant to be, and it doesn’t need to make sense now.

This brings me hope as I move forward in my life. I completed my first year of my Archaeology Masters and I keep thinking where I want to be when I am complete.

Truth is, I guess I don’t really know yet, but at least I know when I get there. If I could leave you with one thought, it is this, there is no word for “goodbye” in my language. We believe that there is always a chance we will meet again, so instead we say mwēstas (wee-stass), which means “see you later.”

mwēstas, my friends

-Honey

About Honey Constant

Honey Constant is nēhiyaw-iskēwēw, Plains Cree Woman, from Sturgeon Lake First Nation. She is currently working on her Masters in Plains Archaeology with Dr Ernie Walker, developing an archaeology program for Wanuskewin from an Indigenous perspective. Honey is passionate about Indigenous representation in the sciences and weaves traditional knowledge and Plains Cree ways of knowing into her work. Honey contributes to her city of Saskatoon and online community by instructing beading workshops; facilitating talking circles on reconciliation, and trying to make the world a safer place to hear Indigenous voices. You can follow her on Instagram @HoneyWillowCreations. You can also learn more about here in this interview.

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